The recent high food price inflation has affected many Canadian families, especially families on a budget. Statistics Canada reported in October that store food prices rose at a faster pace than the consumer price index for all goods for the 11th month in a row.
The Ontario Student Nutrition Program, which feeds 28,000 students in 93 participating schools, has been hit hard by inflation and needs more funding and volunteers. A school lunch that used to cost $1.20 now costs over $2.
A recent study by the non-profit Angus Reid Institute found that nearly 60 percent of Canadians struggle to provide food for their families. When they can afford to buy food, many cannot afford to buy enough food or buy the food they want.
They end up skipping meals, eating old and low-quality foods, visiting different grocery stores looking for cheaper options, which leads to malnutrition. A Dalhousie University study of 5,000 Canadians found that 23.6% of the population is cutting back on food purchases and 7.1% are skipping meals due to inflation.
Overspending on food
Generally speaking, moderate inflation is not bad. The Bank of Canada is aiming for a 2 percent inflation rate, the midpoint of the 1 and 3 percent range. The Bank of Canada influences the inflation rate by manipulating the interest rate.
However, the current high inflation is different – the Bank of Canada itself has recognized this. In a recent speech, central bank governor Tiff Macklem said, “High inflation makes life difficult for Canadians, especially those with low or fixed incomes.”
Food, shelter and transportation account for more than 60 percent of a family’s expenses. If only food prices were subject to high inflation, households could channel income from housing and transportation to cover this. Currently, however, high inflation is spreading across all three areas, meaning Canadians are having trouble getting food on the table, keeping a roof over their heads, and providing transportation.
The amount of money middle-income households spend on transportation and food makes them vulnerable. But the recent hike in interest rates isn’t helping low-income people either. Canadians spend most of their income (nearly one-third) to have a roof over their heads. The recent increase in lending rates has led to an increase in the cost of housing.
The Canadian Food Price Report shows that historically Canadians spend less than 10 percent of their income on food. But that has changed – Canadians now spend 16% of their income on food. The report also states that the food inflation index has outpaced headline inflation over the past 20 years. The price of a typical grocery bill increased by 70 percent between 2000 and 2020.
Canadian health is suffering
A key side effect of rising food prices is its impact on health and nutrition. When the cost of food increases, it limits the availability of nutritious foods for low-income people. Ultimately, this could lead to long-term health consequences and put additional strain on Canada’s already overburdened healthcare system.
According to a University of Toronto study, an unreliable food supply increases vulnerability to various diseases and health conditions, including infectious diseases, poor oral health, injury and chronic conditions such as depression and anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and chronic pain. .
Similarly, a study by scientists at the Harvard Center for Population and Development found that nutrition, especially in the postnatal state, is the most important factor influencing human growth. This indicates that lower adult height in low- and middle-income countries is related to environmental conditions such as nutrition.
We need to pay special attention to food price inflation, as it can have long-term implications for the physical and mental health of future generations. Our children are our future: we have no room for compromise on their food and nutrition. Today’s malnourished children will lead to tomorrow’s malnourished nation.
Coordinated efforts required
It is imperative that politicians and governments are aware of this devastating situation so that they can take the necessary steps to combat rising food prices. Governments and politicians must ensure that Canadians have access to affordable and nutritious food.
As a short-term solution, Canadians should consider buying seasonal and frozen produce, growing their own produce, and replacing meat with legumes. To address food price inflation from a systemic perspective, policymakers should index Social Security amounts to inflation as quickly as possible to prevent unpredictable spikes in food prices for welfare recipients.
Finally, businesses should not take advantage of people’s desperation by raising food prices. Canada’s three largest grocery chains have been posting huge profits lately. They could use this profit to offset some of the cost of food price inflation. There is no silver bullet to tackle high food price inflation effectively, but it will require coordinated efforts from all parties – governments, businesses and households.